On one of his strolls around his hometown Ponnani, artist Thaj Backer stumbled on something that ignited his curiosity: a vendor who sold Arabic ink to the madrassas in the locality. The ink, he found, was used in the ceremonial initiation of a child into the world of letters. Intrigued, Thaj began to learn more about it.
Available only in a few shops selling the Quran in the area, this natural ink is made using burnt rice and tree gum (as a binder) and is powdered. “I believe there is a certain honour in working with local resources and this ink was a discovery,” says Thaj, who wasted no time in buying it.
“The powdered ink is usually mixed with either boiled and cooled water or rose water. The mixture is then poured into a piece of muslin, tied and hung up so that the pure ink is collected,” he says. It is jet black and flows easily on paper, Thaj adds.
He has been felicitously using the Arabic ink for the drawings he has been doing as part of Inktober, a month-long global art challenge, which has artists showcasing their inking skills. Participating artists are expected to submit one drawing a day through the month, based on the theme provided.
The themes are random — ‘crow’, ‘hope’, ‘trap’ and ‘coral’ for example. Thaj says the series helped him overcome a creative block he had been experiencing ever since the pandemic broke out.
“This has been an especially taxing period for artists who derive inspiration from human interactions and travel. For me, art is not a solitary activity. I derive a lot of energy from people for my work,” he says. “I am the kind of person who takes off on a train journey without a particular destination in mind when I feel stressed. It is stifling not being able to do that.”
Thaj is also a performing artist. For the past 10 years has explored mediums that include theatre, painting, sculpture and designing.
He was part of ABC (Art by Children), a programme initiated by the Kochi Muziris Biennale Foundation to run research-driven art interventions for children and art educators to help them reach their creative potential.
Thaj is currently working on a series that explores the nuances of romance, the body and nudity. Titled Udalukalude Unmaadam, (Ecstasy of the Body), it has over 60 works done in charcoal on paper.
Thaj will be part of a virtual residency organised by House Conspiracy, an arts organisation based in Australia. He will also be showcasing his work in an online group show, For the Kisans.
The works done for Inktober will be documented as a personal collection and can be viewed at @Thajbackerofficial on Instagram.